Dr Pen Woods from Queen Mary University of London and The Centre for the History of Emotions has teamed up with poet, Laila Sumpton, and Research Director, Dr Victoria de Rijke from the Centre for Education Research & Scholarship in the Department of Education at Middlesex University, to create 4 public workshops running on 14-15 Nov and 21-22 November as part of the New Worlds theme of this year’s Being Human Festival. The Being Human Festival, directed by Dr Michael Eades, is the UK’s only national festival that promotes public engagement with humanities research. This range of fun, inspiring events taking place during lockdown is more important and valuable than ever. The ‘Poetry Versus Colonialism’ workshop series uses hands on art and creative writing practices to build connections and awareness of the histories and legacies of Empire and the slave trade and enable participants to remake their sense of the world and their place in it.
Hands-on activities range from creating Asante-style wax moulds under the direction of British Ghanaian goldsmith Emefa Cole, a key goldsmithing technique, to creating a sugar sculpture with British Trinidadian artist Karen McLean. Skilled poets and wordsmiths will lead the groups through the expression of their own insights and feelings about these problematic and complex histories. Together the workshop teams offer accessible, mind-expanding and profound ways for the public to engage with the complex histories and legacies of the slave trade and colonialism and appreciate its importance for both our individual sense of identity and our sense of community and society.
Poets Laila Sumpton, Poet in Residence at Keats House, Nick Makoha, Sandra Agard, Miriam Nash and Keith Jarrett have been commissioned to produce poems to be shared at these public workshops. The poets will inspire and support the participants in creating their own articulation and response to Cotton / Gold / Tobacco and Sugar using a diverse range of approaches.
Academics include Professor Nicholas Ridout from Queen Mary University of London, Dr Lipi Begum from the London College of Fashion, Dr Malcolm Cocks from Dulwich College and Dr Pen Woods from QMUL and The Centre for the History of Emotion. Artists include Emefa Cole and Karen McLean, and dancers from The Season of Bangla Drama supported by Tower Hamlets Council and Queen Mary University of London. Arts and heritage organisation contributors include Angus Patterson, Senior Curator from the V&A Museum; Sonia Ashmore, Design Historian and former Research Fellow with the V&A Museum; Eleni Bide, Librarian, at the Goldsmiths’ Company and Julia Skilton from the Goldsmiths’ Centre, and generous support from Keats House, City of London Corporation. Dulwich College and the Southwark Schools Learning Partnership have offered generous support and funding, as have The Centre for Public Engagement at QMUL, the Centre for the History of Emotions at QMUL and Keats House.
Dr Natt Day, Public Engagement Officer at Queen Mary’s Centre for Public Engagement said: “Queen Mary University of London has been taking part in the Being Human Festival for years and it’s always been a fantastic way to engage audiences with the world-leading research that we do here and bring events to life across the capital and beyond.”
Dr Pen Woods added that: “In such uncertain times, it has never been more important for us to hear more about the legacies of British colonial history and understand the different implications these events have for neighbours, friends and colleagues, and for different generations living together in this country. In a second National Lockdown we invite people of all ages across the country to come together online in this moment of social distance in order to hear stories and take time to make and write themselves into a new world of understanding, recognition and hope. These workshops are the first step in a wider arts and poetry project funded by the Arts Council England involving schools and young people around the country and beyond these shores”.
Laila Sumpton, Poet, said: “We are delighted that 'Poetry Versus Colonialism' has received funding from Arts Council England- which will enable us to take these workshops about exploring the history of Empire to schools, museums and teacher trainees. We will launch a series of educational resources and an anthology of poetry from students and the poets we are working with.”
Eleni Bide, Librarian, Goldsmiths Company said: “This is a wonderful opportunity to explore the complex story of gold through hands-on making and creative engagement with young people. By the Goldsmiths’ Company and Goldsmiths’ Centre supporting this new initiative, we can trace the truly global history of this precious metal and better understand our part within it. We hope that this approach can also help to inspire a new generation of goldsmiths who feel confident about examining what gold’s past means to them and are ready to shape the future of the craft.”